Tuesday, January 17, 2023

It was the Best of Musk. It was the Worst of Musk. (Pt. 2)

 I just wrote. a quick post about Elon you can read if you want.  Here's a recap:

  • He's a major funder of OpenAi's ChatGPT
  • He has been at the center of many of America's economic shifts since the late 90s
  • The innovations he has taken a part in creating have changed all of our lives one way or another
  • They have also reshaped how our future will look
  • Those innovations are the best of Musk 

Glad you're all caught up. Let's start talking about the worst of Musk.

I left off pointing out that he is a devout capitalist and how that fact has implications on how the rest of us will access his innovations. Let me explain what I mean by devout. I mean he's here to get rich(er). There is nothing wrong with that. I'm not sure he leans more toward the libertarian side or the socialist side. Whatever side it leans toward, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The point is that he is committed to pursuing profit. In fact, he wouldn't be successful if he hadn't followed all of the rules of capitalism and found a way to make a profit for his ventures. In the game of corporate profits, Elon Musk is the absolute winner. In the entire world. You don't get to the top of that hill without having a committed approach to profit. See Max Weber's '...Capitalist Spirit' if you want to read more about the commitment that is required in order to be successful in capitalism. Elon's devout.  

Not all of us are devout capitalists. Sure, we all benefit from profit and many of us believe in it. I like to go to a for-profit Italian style bakery near my house every Sunday for bread. I like my iPhone. I like my video game collection. But I also like government services like garbage collection, police and fire protection and a good solid school I can send my kid to every day. I am in this capitalist system as a public school teacher, so I like that too. Sure ,there may be some who believe that my Italian bakery should be government owned, so that Sunday bread can be evenly distributed to everyone in my community. I respect that point of view.  Others may feel that the ladies who own the bakery shouldn't be forced to follow any safety regulations at all and that they should not be asked to treat their workers in a humane manner.  I respect that point of view as well (although I would also stop buying my bread from there if any of those were the case). 

In my travels, I have learned that most of us aren't devout about anything. The rest of us are sort of mixed in our opinions. And that's what most of us aim for. We aim for a mixed economic system where folks are protected while also having a shot at making their cheddar cheese by way of good old fashioned profit. Socialism alone would be a failure. But capitalism alone would be a failure as well. Both have flaws. Most of us like to pick a little bit from each buffet tray.

In its practical functions, capitalism requires huge sums of money (called capital) to be swept away from some so that it can be redirected toward others. This isn't a slight against free market systems or anything. It's just how this particular one works. 

Where did you think your TDA investment into the Sustainable Equity Fund went after it was deducted from all of our checks last week? That money lands in an investment fund that benchmarks (aims to follow) the Russell 1000 Growth Index. That's an investment fund of 1000 of the biggest, fattest most well-known corporations you can think of. Each of them are accepting your money  -twice every month- by simply extending their hand (i.e selling shares).  That's right. The money you make as a teacher goes to defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and to 1%er banks like the Bank of Carnegie Melon and Blackrock. These institutions are the very pillars of modern day capitalism. Of course there is a promise that you will get your money back for whatever their paper is worth at that time. That's the deal you make when you choose to invest. But that choice means that you have allowed your money to be swept away from you this month and have it redirected toward the devout capitalists who operate those corporations. Again, this is not a slight against the system. I am simply describing to you how it works. 

Many of us are not entirely comfortable with how much money gets swept away from the 'many' and toward the 'some'.  We have a homeless problem in our nation, but local organizations including governments have no money to address it.  We have an opioid crisis  too, but there seems to be no money to assuage it. 13.9% of all New Yorkers live below the poverty level (that data seems low to me) and they can divert no money to help because it has all been swept away to go elsewhere. That's capitalism too. Through many paths and means, all of that capital lands in a bank accounts of a large US corporation, where it is invested. That's capitalism. 

Elon Musk is a devout that.

On any given day, the Sustainability Fund may also be invested in Tesla. I am sorry to break the news to you, but Elon has your retirement money. He's probably buying coffee with it right now. 

Unlike the rest of us regular capitalists out here running through our daily lives placing reasonable expectations on our local governments for things like garbage collection, schools and policing, devout capitalists are here to get paid. Those capitalists have your money so they can profit off of it by making great things that you can buy.

Hopefully. Whatever you're buying, there is someone else who can't afford it. 

Because this is how the whole system works, everything Elon does requires a profit in order for him to survive.  And that profit comes from people spending money on the things that he sells. That may be hard for folks to see at first. But go ahead and try join the EV revolution: The starting price for that is around $50,000. Why don't you buy some of that Starlink? The cost for that is $1300 per year with a $700 deposit. Want to go to Mars? Sure! That'll be $500,000, please. Welcome to the revolution.  The experts say that, soon, ChatGPT and tools like it will not be free eitherThat seems to make sense when you think about capitalism . But that locks people (namely the ones I work with) out of all of these possibilities.  That's capitalism.

Do you get it yet? This is the man who helped common folks sell things online.  This is the man who changed the automobile industry. This is the man who bought a space capsule home using rockets to land. 

And last week, his efforts with ChatGPT led the New York City Department of Education to divorce AI from its professional educators and students. That is the fruit of a tree that Elon has helped to plant. This historic innovation, which brings with it a profound statement of boundless exploration and hope for political, cultural and economic advancement, is now off limits for the seventy-four percent (74%) of city students who lived in poverty in 2018 (here). The DOE has run away from this as fast as they possibly can. (🍩). He's that guy too. 

And now he has brought that devout spirit of capitalism to Twitter. When he bought the company, he fired half of the employees. Many wound up being more loyal to the DNC than they were to Twitter (here). Shortly thereafter, he sold the blue dot for $8 per month. And just recently, he introduced a new product where, for a couple of hundred dollars (or less) users can easily boost views on their tweets and links.That last innovation brings that spirit of capitalism within eyesight of a core American value: Elon has capitalized free speech. 

And that's why I'm writing this series. This devout capitalist who has become the richest most impactful person in the country is selling something new: Your ability to be heard. That's a small but profound shift and part three will focus on that; on a possible reality where people cannot be heard because they cannot afford to. 

Before I write the lats part, though, I'm going to drop a few dollars to boost the reach of this blog post. I would like see just how much free speech money can buy me in this harsh economic environment.  

I'll leave off with a link to a song about Musk that my teenage kid listens to. The lyrics fully capture the complexities that Musks' many (many) shifts have wrought by addressing where those contributions are already falling short. 

🎵When I said take me to the moonI never meant take me aloneI thought if mankind toured the skyIt meant all of us could goBut I don't want to see the stars if they're justOne more piece of land for you to colonizeFor us to turn to sand
So f** your tunnels fuck your carsF** your rockets fuck your cars againYou promised you'd be TeslaBut you're just another EdisonBecause Tesla broke a patentAll you ever broke were hearts 
I can't believe you tore humanity apartWith the very same machines that could've been our brand new start


Sunday, January 15, 2023

It was the Best of Musk. It was the Worst of Musk. (Pt. 1)

The other day,  I wrote about how ChatCPT was blocked by the NYC DOE and how banning it was a step in the wrong direction. 

OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT is one of Elon Musk's companies! It was founded back in 2015 as a non-profit company. 

AI created this profile picture
Elon Musk has been at the center of nearly every shift in consumerism since he founded PayPal back in 1998. That service created a shift in the way people moved money and eventually allowed regular Americans to access major websites like E-Bay and Etsy to make money by selling their stuff.   His ownership and leadership of Tesla is famous for creating another economic shift -in the automobile industry. GM and Ford, two automakers who had resisted producing electric vehicles for decades, are now producing EVs because of the competition that Tesla brings to their market. That's all because of Elon Musk. 

Think of Elon (in a symbolic way), as a real-life Tony Stark. We live in an age of EVs, privately owned spaceships and artificial intelligence. All of it is available to the masses (if in a technical sense) because of what he has been involved with creating. The world hasn't seen anyone like this since Edison, Tesla and Ford were alive.   So when I first learned that Elon Musk was supporting OpenAI, I knew that another shift (the age of AI) was going to creep up on us as well. And here it is.  

This is the best of Musk! We have choices and opportunities today that we could only see on TV when we were kids. But here's the thing: Elon is a devout capitalist. That has implications on how the rest of us access his innovations and that will have implications on all of us. 

The best of Musk is reflected in something like ChatGPT (please give it a whirl! And think about how it can expand your reach into the people that your students will become). But that is the short story. You can't have the short without the long. Long and short sort of define each other when you think about it.  

So I am going to write a few posts about Elon and try to tell the longer story about how the societal changes may look.  He has a true gift for finding profound shifts in human progress through profitable innovations and that gift is beginning to have profound implications for the rest of us. As I hinted in the title, not all of those implications are great for us so please check back here. Part 2 will be about Capitalism and part 3 will be about Free Speech. But this series is all Elon! As it says in the song ... 

🎵I can't believe you tore humanity apart
With the very same machines that could've been our brand new start🎵

Friday, January 6, 2023

The DOE Blocked ChatGPT. It Was the Wrong Move. Here's Why

If you haven't heard of ChatGPT, let me briefly introduce you. 

It's a chat bot. 

You access the chat bot (ChatGPT) by creating an account with the company who hosts it. (That company is partially supported by Elon Musk). The chat bot is called ChatGPT. But you chat with it. That's all you do. It understands and answers you as though it is a well informed human being. 

It isn't a human being, mind you.  It's an artificial intelligence chatbot. But it knows a lot about a lot andso it will answer you. 

And what folks say about it is true! It can, indeed write you a complete essay, in the form and structure of your choosing, and in whichever writer's style you prefer -and it will do this in less than one minute. This is the essay killer.  

Here's what it wrote when I asked it to write for me. (Here is what I asked it):

Hi! I am a school teacher who is frustrated with the decisions my school district makes. I write a blog called nycdoenuts. Can you write me two paragraphs of satire about my school district in the style of Charles Bukowski?Thanks!

It delivered this to me in less than 45 seconds:

"The school district is a place of endless bureaucracy and red tape, a labyrinth of paperwork and meetings that seem to accomplish nothing. The administrators sit in their plush offices, issuing edicts and decrees from on high, while the teachers and students toil away in the trenches, struggling to make sense of it all. And yet, despite all the nonsense and frustration, there is a strange sort of beauty in the chaos, a poetry of sorts in the absurdity of it all. So we keep trudging on, day after day, hoping against hope that someday, somehow, things will get better. But we're not holding our breath.

The school board is a collection of self-important blowhards, each one more pompous and out-of-touch than the last. They talk a big game about "student achievement" and "closing the achievement gap," but all they really care about is the bottom line. They'll cut corners and make deals with the highest bidder, all in the name of "efficiency." And the teachers and students? They're just pawns in the board's grand scheme, expendable assets to be shuffled around and used as leverage. It's enough to make you want to pull your hair out. But what can you do? It's a dirty game, and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches."

This is fairly close to accurate, if you know what I mean!! It does have one fatal limitation but that's something I will talk more about a little later. 


With all of this "Self-writing" involved, it naturally stands to reason that NYCDOE would have a knee-jerk reaction of completely banning ChatGPT from any and all city schools and city devices. On the surface, banning this seems very (very) pragmatic. After all, we can't have all these kids having the internet write their essays for them, can we? And, yes, steps should be taken for security purposes. 

But if we dig beneath that surface, you may realize that the city DOE did (again) exactly the opposite of what students in the 21st Century actually need. We are no longer locked in the 20th century mindset of answering questions to demonstrate how prepared we are. We're in a whole new world. I mean, if the last twenty years of education and American History hasn't showed you that our students are more than just a performance score on a standardized test, then I don't know how many more years you will need before you realize that this method of teaching and learning is approaching its end. 

And there are skills that students do need for the 21st Century! A few years back, some conservative-leaning policy makers teamed with with a former president of Tanzania and created a list of 12 skills that they felt every student on Earth will need for the 21st Century.  They sound new when you read them but the 21 Century Skills are, truly, old-school ideas that come straight from the days where you and I were in school and were asked to problem-solve.  They are as old school education as you can think of. Here's how one website defines them

21st century skills refer to the knowledge, life skills, career skills, habits, and traits that are critically important to student success in today’s world, particularly as students move on to college, the workforce, and adult life. 

There are 12 of these skills in all spread across three categories of Learning Skills, Literacy and Life Skills.  These are international skills, not just the US. And any student who possesses them will be, as the research goes, be successful in the 21st Century. Take a look at the chart below and think about what's there! Then think about what may be missing:

 Did you notice how essay writing isn't listed as one of the 21st Century skills?

Wait, stop. Of course students will need to write essays. I am not trying to make that point. Please read on ... 


I want to go back to my point about ChatGPT's "fatal limitation": It does have one and that limitation is super fatal. It is greatly limited by what questions the user is able to generate. And being able to understand facts and basic details from a high level text and then phrasing those facts into a question are high order thinking skills. In the world of Bloom's Taxonomy, we call these "synthesis" skills.  

Take my example from above. In order to get the chat bot to write what to me in the style of Charles Bukowski,  I would have needed to be able to perform these tasks:

  • 1) phrase a question in writing (after reading and understanding a difficult text)
  • 2) Know enough to specify the critique my school district and 
  • 3) understand and internalize the writing style of one Charles Bukowski (here he is!). 

Do you see the massive shift there? This changes everything. Students in the 21st Century will be required to ask, not answer, the right questions in order to be prepared for the world.  

Please let that sink in. Everything is changing -soon. This is a massive massive shift.  This is the era that ChatGPT has ushered in and the skills required to generate even these simple two paragraphs are some very high order thinking skills indeed. 


I was going to play with this in the classroom during the month of January. I was going to ask students to use ChatGPT to "describe" how a picture of Mansa Musa might look using specific details from some primary source documents I have. I was then going to have them use another popular AI tool, called Dall-E 2 to generate a picture based on their description.(Yes. That happened as well last year. DallE 2 will take your description and generate a brand new original image based on that description).

The results would have varied by each student's knowledge of the my academic articles they read and how well they were able to phrase the questions they ask the software.  It would all have come down to how well they read the document I assigned to them. Good annotations? You would have a great picture. Bad annotations? You would have generated poop. It would have been a fun little "end of semester" activity. 

Only it won't happen, because the DOE has blocked it all. 

Of course, I tested this activity out for myself. Wan to see?

When I tested my lesson activity, ChatGPT was asked this question (the specifics were based off of the reading I was going to give to my students about Mansa Musa):

Can you describe how a picture of how Mans Musa's would look? I read somewhere that he dressed in wide trousers, which were made from about twenty pieces of a kind of cloth that only he was allowed to wear, that his weapons were all made of gold and were kept near his throne at all times. I also learned that he dressed  a page would always stand on his left holding a silk umbrella and that the surmounted by a dome and a gold falcon. How would a picture of this? I would like to ask Dalle to make me one.

ChatGPT then returned this full description (pic below):

But then I read and paraphrased that description and asked that other AI tool I mentioned (DALL E 2) to generate an original picture based on my paraphrase. Here's how I paraphrased the answer from ChatGPT:

"A picture of Mansa Musa depicted as a regal and imposing figure, dressed in luxurious clothing and surrounded by symbols of his wealth and power including wide trousers made from sumptuous cloth, and a page  standing beside him holding his silk umbrella, and a depiction of his throne, which was surmounted by a golden falcon. " 

The pictures you see below were generated by the other AI took; DALL E 2. But the description came from my interaction with ChatGPT. There are no other pictures like these anywhere on Earth. They are completely unique and based on my recollection of the reading I had ready for my class. 

(Ok. Yes they are probably based on familiar paintings, and pictures, but each of these includes specifics from the article that I was going to have my students read.  This is the skill of phrasing a high order question and then paraphrasing the answer to that question).

I think they are great images and they would have looked good in my classroom. But, as I mentioned,  the tool has been blocked. you see, from all DOE devices and all DOE networks. So now I can't. 


And maybe that's not so bad! It may well be pragmatic for the DOE to block all use of this for now.  After all, my students will have to answer a bunch of questions and write an essay next year in order to pass their high school regents exam, won't they? This isn't the future. It's high school. 

But this is how the future will look. This is what's coming. And, believe it or not, it is going to open up great possibilities for our students and completely disrupt the way future teachers do their job. Blocking it for now is a pretty good move. But preparing for the inevitable arrival of AI in our classrooms and lessons should also happen -now. If I know the DOE, there are probably more appetite for donuts than to begin addressing this. But this would have been the correct move. 

Look, the first personal computer went on sale in 1971. The first laptop? 1981. Social media wasn't invented until the 2000s, and the iPhone, or greatest invention, was born in 2007. We now muc add 2022 to this list of special years because AI is here. Now.